Jan 28 2010

Burkina Faso – diary 2010-01-11 to 2010-01-22

2010-01-11 to 2010-01-14

 We arrived in Burkina Faso with ease. It has been the easiest border crossing since starting the trip. The change in people is very evident and the Burkinabe’s are renowned for their friendliness. Whilst at the border post we found a scale, Earlier that week we were discussing how much weight we thought we had lost and how great it would be to have a scale to weigh ourselves. Kirk’s weight loss has been remarkable and he has lost 10kg’s. He is quite chuffed with himself and he is telling the world!

 We started our journey into Burkina with a relatively good road to Bobo Dioulasso. This was to be our first night in Burkina and we would head to the Banfora region the following day. The drive along the road to Bobo was very different to the roads we had driven along in Mali. The settlements are quite close to the road and the houses are designed in such a way that a series of huts make up an enclosed compound. The round huts are used to store food and goods in whilst the square huts are used for sleeping in. These houses are all joined together and plastered with mud with thatched roves. The children still get excited to see white people and rather than calling us ‘toubab’ (we have been called this since The Gambia) they now simply refer to us as ‘blanc’ (white in French). They smile and wave joyfully as we drive by.

 We reached the centre of Bobo and located the campement Casafrica. They had camping facilities for CFA1500 per person or a double room with mosquito net and fan for CFA4000. We opted for the room option as it was far less hassle and for only CFA1000 more we could ‘splash out’ for one night. We also decided to have dinner at the restaurant that evening where we enjoyed cold beers, steak and frites and brochettes and frits. It was tasty and well worth it.

 The following morning saw Kirk and I wake up a bit blurry eyed. The bed was nowhere close to as comfortable as our mattress in our tent. The bed was very concave and we simply fell into the centre regardless of which way we lay. We enjoyed a breakfast of watermelon, bananas and guavas before driving the 80km to Banfora. The Banfora region is supposed to be the scenic area of Burkina and it was evident that there was far more water and rainfall in this region. They have huge sugarcane plantations in the region which does make the land look very lush and fertile. This has been the first example of commercial farming we have seen since entering West Africa. It was interesting to see the huge irrigation machinery that you would usually see in a more developed country. We were heading for the Karifiguela Waterfalls which were supposedly best in the rainy season and good for camping. We were really hoping that they wouldn’t be a mere trickle and were dying to plunge into some natural water. Unfortunately the route there was very badly marked and we searched and searched and searched. Eventually we stopped at the Gendarmerie office in the middle of a sugarcane plantation and asked them to help us locate the falls. 2 soldiers hopped into Joe and Christine’s car and along with the GPS they proceeded to drive there and back so that we would have the track on the GPS. Whilst Joe was in search of the GPS Christine, Kirk and I sat on the shady veranda reading and waiting. Kirk of course doesn’t know how to relax and when he saw the other Gendarmerie men fiddling with the aerial and TV antennae he thought it a good opportunity to pull out his tool kit and help them get a better reception to watch the football. They of course were very impressed with Kirk’s skills and when Joe eventually returned the Gendarmerie personal were very happy that they could now watch the football sans the snowy picture. We set off amongst the towering sugarcane fields and eventually found the Karfiguela Waterfalls. We arrived slightly later than planned and opted to view the falls the following day. We settled in to a good meal of beef stroganoff and rice. It is amazing what you can cook with a few good ingredients and a tin of evaporated milk! It was delicious and will certainly be repeated in the future!

 Morning arrived and we eagerly anticipated the falls. We knew that they were going to be more than a trickle because we could hear the water plummeting onto the rocks the whole night. It was an easy 10 minute walk through some mango trees and enormous canopy trees before we reached the 1st of the pools. They were very refreshing and we didn’t hesitate a single moment before plunging into the refreshing water. Whist there a few other tourists came along with guides. One of the guides kindly informed us that there were better pools 2 minutes up the drag. We packed up and headed for the pools. They were beautiful. We enjoyed a morning basking in the sun and taking a refreshing dip whenever we felt like it. We enjoyed salad rolls on the waters edge before making our way back to the vehicles to drive to Lake Tengrela. The drive was relatively short and hassle free. Mvubu has started making a horrible clinking sound whenever we hit hard terrain so we needed to take it easy and avoid bad roads. The lake was pretty unimpressive if you were to base it on South African terms but it provided a beautiful setting for a relaxing afternoon under the mango trees. I spent the afternoon entertaining the local children with paper, pens and colouring. It was quite a challenge considering none of them could speak French or English but the universal language of pointing and gesturing seemed to work a treat. Kirk got out his guitar and strummed away gently capturing the attention of one of the little girls. (See the photos). It was yet again a beautiful sunset and we felt thoroughly relaxed and chilled. We did however get eaten by those darn midges again…we have now learnt that we will avoid mango trees at all costs!

 The last scenic place to visit in the Banfora region was a series of rocky crags called Sindou. Kirk was getting anxious about the noise that Mvubu was making and was eager to get back to Bobo. When we were looking for the waterfalls we drove through some molasses covered roads and the bottom of the cars were coated in this sweet smelling sugar. We needed to get rid of this layer of gunk before any inspection of wheels and so needed a jet wash. We simply drove to the Sindou Peaks, took a few pictures and headed back to Bobo. En-route we went through a couple of  peages (toll roads) where we would have floods of ladies flocking to our cars to sell us things. In this case it was dried mango and roasted cashews. We had bought some of the mango on our way to Banfora and so knew how delicious it was. We stocked up on a few snack packs which always make a road trip easier to get through!

 We arrived in Bobo and headed for the car wash. It was quite an event. We had Kirk instructing the car washer what to do and how to do it. Eventually Kirk got fed up of the half hearted attempt to clean Mvubu and took over the process. It was quite funny to watch how these people proceeded to wash the car 4 times. There was simply no logic to their method of washing cars. Kirk successfully managed to get all of the molasses off the bottom of Mvubu. Joe repeated the procedure and we drove off with 2 beautifully shiny cars. We headed back to Casafrica where Kirk and I opted to camp in our tent and Christine and Joe took a room. (The one room had a good mattress and was more comfy than their tent) Casafrica had filled up with other overlanders who we merrily chatted to and swapped stories. We arranged a BBQ for the evening so Christine and I set off in search of a good steak and some veggies. We located the market and managed to find everything we needed. The meat looked good and we came away with a 1kg beef rump for CFA1500 – less that €3. We are in steak heaven I tell you! This was by far one of the best markets we had been to since being in Africa. They sold everything form textiles to fruit and vegetables. There was nobody trying to hassle us or cheat us put of any money. We were very impressed and planned to visit with the boys on Saturday morning before we departed for Ouagadougou. The BBQ as always was received with glee and enjoyed with baked potatoes and a good green salad.

 The following morning saw Kirk and I having a stroll around the town. We went in search of the infamous yoghurt that the region boast about and were successful in finding it. They sell it frozen and it really is delicious. It is plain yoghurt with quite a bit of sugar in it. We have definitely missed our dairy products.

 2010-01-15 to 2010-01-17

 The market was heaving this morning. The sellers had their best wares on show. We headed for the meat market as we wanted to stock up on some beef before we departed. It is a real experience buying meat from the African markets. The meat sections are usually in the covered part of the market where there are concrete structures resembling that of a butchers block. The butchers line their blocks with cardboard and proudly display the meat that they are selling. You can get any part of a sheep, goat or cow in this market. Tripe, tongue, tail, hooves, heads, you name it, they sell it! We were in search of beef rump and fillet which isn’t always easy to find. The butchers in Africa are not as skilled with a knife as they are with an axe; they hack the meat into chunks so in order to get the cut you want you need to be very specific and in Kirk’s case, take over. They presented us with a fillet that was covered in other meat. Kirk took it upon himself to show the butchers how to clean a fillet…he attracted quite an audience and the locals were very impressed with his skills.

 The meat we got was exceptional value. For 3kgs of beef we paid a meagre €7. We also stocked up on vegetables and a kilogram of dried mango and nuts. The cost of living in Africa has been relatively cheap and if you are happy to shop in the local markets and eat what the locals eat then a little bit of money goes a very long way.

We departed from the market heavily laden with plastic packets bursting at their seams. Joe had offered to cook us Chile Con Carne for dinner which is his signature dish. He insisted that it needed to cook the entire day so after lunch he got chopping and prepared our dinner. It was very delicious and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. After dinner we took a walk into town to sample some local music. We stopped in at a music venue that was quite westernised. It had a stage, lighting and a relatively decent sound system. It was set in a courtyard with plants and a water fountain. The band performing was not that remarkable and so we decided to move on to a local discothèque. It was a real dive but a good enough place to have a couple of drinks and a dance with the locals on the dance floor. The locals think it very novel to have white people integrating with them in their normal weekend activities. We headed back to Casafrica at a reasonable hour as we had planned to depart for Ouagadougou the following morning. Kirk however didn’t feel the need to go to bed just then. He decided it would be a great idea to accompany Joe and John (an Englishman we met at Casafrica) to another ‘nightclub’. With the girls in bed they went off to experience the African nightlife. They were rudely awakened when they were charged almost €5 for a small beer. Not everything is cheap in Africa! They sipped slowly and decided then that it was a good time to call it a night.

 We woke dreary eyed and packed up camp. We said our goodbyes to other fellow overlanders and travellers and set forth in the direction of Ouagadougou. The point of visiting the capital of Burkina was to obtain visas for Ghana where we believed them to issue a 2 month visa in 48 hours. We went to bed in anticipation of an admin filled day the following morning.

 2010-01-18 to 2010-01-21

 We were up bright and early this morning dressed in our best gear to impress the Ghanaian Ambassador. We had received reports that visa applications at this particular office had been suspended and the last people to apply for a visa 2 weeks earlier had only been issued with a 2 week stay. We needed at least a month to be able to do the charity work for Afrikids as well as visit Accra to sort out our services and application for visas for onward travel.

We were greeted by a receptionist who had clearly woken up on the wrong side of the bed. She asked us if we were residents of Burkina Faso to which we all replied ‘no’. She then went on to tell us that the Ghanaian embassy was only issuing visas to residents. We were told to leave. This was going to be a huge problem. We were expected in Bolgatanga in early Feb and now with no way of getting a visa other than to fly back to our country of residence, we were going to be letting many people down. We just couldn’t accept this as a reason for not issuing a visa when we knew that they were issuing these 2 month visas in December. We put our heads together and decided to pay the Canadian embassy a visit to explain our circumstances. Joe appealed to the Canadian consular on all of our behalves and alas we had it some luck. We were told to return to the Ghanaian embassy to fill out application forms. Visas were not guaranteed but we had at least got our applications in. We were told to come back on Friday! We were in for a long wait. At least we had the comfort of a swimming pool and an excellent internet connection courtesy of the OK Inn who allows overlanders to camp for free provided you eat or drink something each day! We took the time to catch up on blog updates, and sort out admin.

 The area that we were staying in was a little way out of the city centre which provided us with some refuge from the tourist touts. It was so nice to be able to walk around the local streets and not be bothered by someone wanting to sell you something. Evenings were either spent in the camping area or strolling around the local area in search for food. The street food in Ouagadougou is outstanding. During one of our afternoon walks we sampled many local dishes. A favourite dish was the deep fried yam with a tomato relish. They added a new dimension to French fries and were delicious. The old lady, who would sit on the side of the dirt road with her big cauldron pot and open fire, was always pleased to see the ‘blancs’. We returned on 3 occasions. We also had some traditional Ghanaian food one evening which consisted of pounded yam served with a meat sauce. It was quite different in texture but extremely tasty.

 Whilst exploring the Banfora region Mvubu had picked up this horrible clanking sound. Kirk decided to use the time in Ouagadougou to investigate where the noise was coming from and discovered that Mvubu had snapped his right rear stabilizer bar. It is not really a huge problem but it did restrict us to only using good tarred roads. In Africa that is impossible and so with time on our hands Kirk decided to get it fixed. At first he tried to dismantle it all on his own with me running backwards and forwards fetching tools and carrying out orders. (I felt like an apprentice) After a thorough investigation and good struggle with nuts and bolts he decided to take it to the professionals as he didn’t quite have all the tools and he needed to either weld the old bar or buy a new one. He cleaned up and went to the Toyota dealer 5 minutes away. They didn’t have the part and were going to charge €300 for a new one. This was simply not an option so Kirk enquired about a scarp yard to which he was taken to by another mechanic. In this scrap yard they had the part we needed and were happy to do all the work for €60. Not quite as cheap as Morocco but still better than paying a ludicrous amount of money to a Toyota dealer. With Mvubu better we were now 1 step closer to getting to Ghana. The visas were still proving to be the one thing holding us up. All we could do was wait and that we did!

 Our last night was spent back in the local area. We had found a place that sold cheap cold beer and went to visit it again. Kirk mentioned that it was times like these that can’t quite be captured on film or camera. There we were, 4 white people sitting on plastic patio chairs outside a shebeen, built out of wood and concrete, alongside the dirt road surrounded by rubble and old used tyres. The street was busy with mopeds roaring up and down and people walking to their homes or taking food to a neighbour or shopkeeper. These areas are quite difficult to envisage unless you actually visit them. We moved on from the shebeen and visited another great find; a restaurant that we had visited earlier on in the day to have omelettes for lunch. The owner was a lovely Burkinabe who was so chuffed to have white people eating at her restaurant. We had promised that we would be back for dinner and she had promised us Rice and sauce or Chicken soup. We arrived as we said we would and were greeted with big smiles and handshakes. This restaurant was in the style of a roadside café where we sat at a counter as you would at a bar. The dinner was served up in record time and was truly delicious. They manage to pack so many flavours into their food even with the limited use of ingredients.

 2010-01-22

 The first thing on our minds this morning was whether or not we had been issued our visas for Ghana. We were told that we could fetch the visas at 11am so we again were being held up by the Ghanaian Embassy. We packed up camp and slowly made our way to the embassy. Joe went in to pick up the passports whilst the rest of us held our breaths in anticipation…the week in Ouagadougou had paid off, we had been issued with a 1month visa and we were thrilled to eventually be on our way to our 7th African country. We didn’t hesitate for one moment and set our noses south to the border between Leo and Tumu. We had received bad reports of corruption at the main border post between Po and Paga and so opted for a smaller post that was not prone to this kind of behaviour. Kirk and I breezed through in a matter of minutes. The carnet was accepted and our visas stamped. The difference between Burkina Faso and Ghana was remarkable. The most obvious difference was the language; it was exhilarating to communicate in English again. The British definitely left their mark in Ghana because when we were told to take a seat in the customs officer office there was only one chair available. The officer insisted that the lady sits down and the man stands…typical chivalry which I found extremely refreshing. Christine and Joe had a few issues as they didn’t have a carnet which proved to be a problem at this border post. A carnet is not compulsory in Ghana and a C59 can be issued however the officers at this border port were a little clueless as in what to do. After a couple of hours and some research on the internet in the chief officers office Christine and Joe had the proof they needed to get the C59 issued and we were finally on our way. We were told that the road to Bolgatanga was a dirt track for 40kms and tarred thereafter. This was not to be the case. The road was awful. It took us 5 hours to cover 120kms. The road was potholed and dirt for over 80kms and eventually turned to good tar after Navrongo. We continued on to Bolgatanga in search of accommodation for the night. We eventually settled on staying at the Catholic Mission where they had rooms for GCD12 (€6) per night. The rooms were huge with big fans and spotlessly clean bathroom facilities. The thing that Christine and I were most thankful for were the sit down loos. We were so tired of using the squat loos that the francophone countries provided and the fact that these were clean was an added bonus. I could write a book on the worst toilets in Africa if I had the inclination and the time. Some have been very unpleasant!!!

 Before bed we needed to find some dinner. We hadn’t stopped for lunch as we needed to get through the border. It was quite late but that didn’t stop us from walking the streets until we found a lovely lady selling omelettes and bread. Whilst we waited for her to cook the omelettes we were actually able to have a proper conversation with her and find out all about her. She had 2 jobs, during the day she was a hairdresser and at night she cooked omelettes for the people coming out of the disco late at night. We gobbled up our food and headed for bed. It had been a long and exhausting day and we were desperate for some sleep.

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